How a Reporter Uncovered the FBI’s Secret Use of a Famous Photographer to Infiltrate the Civil Rights Movement


Martin Luther King – Civil Rights March on Washington, D.C. – 1963

From History News Network by Marc Perrusquia author of A Spy in Canaan: How the FBI Used a Famous Photographer to Infiltrate the Civil Rights Movement

Bobby Doctor understood the movement came with peril. Eagerly, he dodged fists and boots while integrating lunch counters; he negotiated angry mobs as he marched in streets. But it was only after he joined the U.S. Civil Rights Commission as a field representative in Memphis that he sensed the presence of another foe – the nearly invisible yet unyielding opposition of his own government.

Investigated by the FBI from 1968 to 1969 as a security threat, Doctor nearly lost his livelihood. Though he would serve a distinguished, 40-year career with the commission, most of it as its Southeastern director, his job fell in jeopardy early when agents accused him of associating with suspected subversives.

“It shows how dirty, how rotten, how filthy they were,” Doctor told me in retirement. “I’ll admit I was very close to the militant movement in Memphis. But I was also close to the traditional leadership. I tried to bridge the gap.”

Doctor learned early on of the FBI’s antipathy. But it wasn’t until decades later following a long-running newspaper investigation I headed that he learned the identity of a key informer – Ernest Withers, an extremely personable freelance news photographer who enjoyed unusual access.

Read the rest of the article at the History News Network

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